Hike the James E Edmonds Trail at Black Rock Mountain State Park, exploring stunning summit views, tumbling streams, and a secluded waterfall on this difficult six-mile loop at Georgia’s highest-elevation state park.
LOCATION:Rabun County near Clayton, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Stunning summit views, tumbling mountain streams, and a gorgeous waterfall framed in evergreen rhododendron: this hike at Black Rock Mountain State Park covers some of North Georgia’s most beautiful terrain. The James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail explores a stunningly diverse, high-elevation landscape, trailing to sweeping mountain summit vistas, crossing through mossy creek valleys, and offering a challenging workout along the way. The trail treks the backcountry of Black Rock Mountain State Park, Georgia’s highest elevation state park, that’s nestled in the visually stunning terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the state’s northern border.
This scenic loop meanders through steeply rising and falling elevations, one of the most challenging state park hikes in Georgia. (For an equally beautiful, but considerably shorter and less challenging hike at the park, hike to stunning views and wildflowers on the neighboring Black Rock Mountain State Park Tennessee Rock Trail.) This hike’s difficulty is worthwhile, though – there’s abundant natural beauty throughout the hike, and it’s easily one of our favorites in our state.
Black Rock Mountain Edmonds Trail: the hike
The adventure begins at a trailhead near the Black Rock Mountain summit (view maps and driving directions), ascending into the forest along a crescent-shaped ridge. The spur trail quickly descends from the ridge, dropping elevation sharply as it approaches the Edmonds Backcountry Loop. Reaching the loop, the hike turns right, following the loop trail counter-clockwise and venturing deeper into the backcountry wilderness.
The trail gains elevation, climbing beneath a young forest canopy and reaching the peak of a small knob at one mile. The hike descends from the knob, dropping to cross the cool, trickling water of Taylor Creek at 1.9 miles. The trail follows the creek upstream, catching views of the creek as it cascades down steeply sloped, water-polished expanses of exposed rock. The trail crosses the creek again at just over two miles.
And from here, the ascent continues. The trail makes a sharp, difficult climb with few switchbacks to the rocky Scrugg Knob, reaching the oddly-named, 3060-foot summit. The trail descends through Scrugg Gap before climbing again to skirt the summit of Marsen Knob. Large, scattered, downed trees at the summit lie as a testament to the wind’s power in these high-elevation expanses of the park.
The trail descends Marsen Knob, a welcome break from the strenuous climbs over the past few miles. A spur trail exits to the right, departing the loop to catch some of the park’s most gorgeous, expansive views from the summit of Lookoff Mountain.
After descending from Lookoff Mountain, the hike resumes the loop on the Edmonds Trail. The hike descends into a stream, lichen, and moss-filled forest before crossing a gravel road. Views of Black Rock Lake emerge on the trail’s right side through a thin-trunked, young deciduous forest on the lake’s shore. The trail loops northeast toward the Black Rock Mountain summit, reaching yet another intersection with Taylor Creek. The creek cascades over a large rock slab, tumbling down a beautiful waterfall into a crystalline, cool pool of water below.
At 2380 feet elevation, the trail has reached the lowest point on this hike – and it’s literally all uphill from here. Departing the waterfall, the trail climbs the mountain’s lower elevations, meandering through a series of switchbacks. The trail crosses Greasy Creek via a wooden bridge, ascending alongside the tumbling creek before crossing an old road. The trail reaches the spur trail to the trailhead, turning right to climb the spur trail sharply uphill to the trailhead and continuing the calf-burning climb. The hike reaches the trailhead at just over seven miles, completing the challenging – but beautiful – hike through Black Rock Mountain’s backcountry.
Note: slippery rocks and fast-moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
More Black Rock Mountain State Park adventures
In the area with daylight – and energy – to burn? Before you leave the park, hike the Tennessee Rock Trail at Black Rock Mountain State Park through a shady, wildflower-filled forest and catch beautiful views from the Tennessee Rock Overlook. South of the park, catch incredible gorge views at Tallulah Gorge State Park or the popular, gorgeous waterfall at Panther Creek Falls. And for even more outdoor fun in the area, check out our guide to Rabun County’s best hiking and running trails.
Up for an even more challenging hike? There’s a similarly-named summit an hour north in North Carolina, Blackrock Mountain. Blackrock towers nearly 6,000 feet in the Plott Balsam Range just east of the Great Smoky Mountains, and offers incredible 360-degree views from a rocky summit. The route to summit climbs nearly 3,000 feet from Pinnacle Park in Sylva, NC, ascending through a forest of towering hardwoods, enormous boulders, and a stand of fragrant balsam fir. It’s a workout, for sure – but the views from the summit are so worth the climb.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
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